Today is graduation at my high school.
I get to see students who I have known for the past four years finally get that degree. And the ones I will yell loudest for are the ones who had the hardest slog.
I became a teacher in the United States in 2000. And I had some awfully hard students. I lamented then entering the classroom with so little knowledge. But my AP, an amazing woman who pushed us to try to raise the bar even when it felt like this was so much the wrong thing to do, said that I was better than the alternative.
These teaching positions in the Bronx, at the 8th worst high school in New York City, were not filled for long. Teachers who came quickly moved into positions that were in a less sketchy part of the city, where the students weren’t so difficult. What she was telling me was right. I was better than a long-term sub, who really wasn’t there for the long term.
But as I look back today, I kind of wish I could do it all again.
I didn’t really know these students. Nor did I know how to.
I can’t believe my naivete, or my arrogance. To imagine that I was trusting a book with a pronunciation guide on how to pronounce “As-Salaam–Alaikum,” rather than trusting the Muslim student sitting right in front of me makes me ill today. I still think about it. Even though it was more than a decade ago. Heck, I didn’t even know he was Muslim.
But today, I know. It’s a lovely greeting that carries with it such strength, and, for me, lessons of humility.
And I’ll be thinking of my Muslim students as they cross the stage during this first week of Ramadan (I know what that is now, too!). I’ll be reminiscing about the young man I was blown away by when I was working in an elementary school. He still credits me today as the one teacher who taught him to read.
And that is something to smile about.
I’ll be thinking about the Nepali girls (and boys) who stressed out so much about what to wear UNDER the graduation gowns.
I’ll be thinking about the Karen student who came to me for help on topics that were so culturally foreign to him that he did not know where to start.
I’ll be thinking about my students. About how much I’ll miss seeing them. No matter how hard they were.
And I will wish them well.
And I’ll pack along plenty of tissues.